School Slams Mom With $77,000 Bill for Information About Her Own Kid

schoolParents always want what they think is best for their child. But when your motherly instincts clash with those of your child's teacher, how do you know when to fight for what you feel is right or when to stand down?   


Sherry Smith has a 19-year-old son who is about to graduate from a mainstreamed high school program. Because of his special needs, his post–high school education will be state funded. While her son hopes to attend a program called Ready for Life, which teaches life skills to special-needs students while mainstreaming them on a college campus, the school district recommended he attend a non-mainstream program with vocational options he's not interested in.

Smith filed a Freedom of Information request with the school district, seeking emails and correspondence that would explain how the school reached the decision they did. The school is willing to comply with the FOI request, as soon as Smith pays the $77,718.75 the school says is necessary to pay for the estimated 4,687.5 hours of work required to meet the request.

While a bill of over $77,000 seems shocking, it's not an outlandish sum when you consider the significant amount of time it takes to comply with a FIO request. FIO requests are often worded as broadly as possible to prevent pertinent materials from being withheld. The school district claims that to comply with Smith's request, they need to hire an outside person at the rate of $16.58 per hour to comb through massive amounts of emails from the past 14 months that could potentially be relevant to the request. Knowing this, $77,000 isn't unreasonable. What's more surprising is that Smith filed a FOI request in the first place.

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Decisions about a child's education don't take place in a vacuum. Particularly for students with special needs, schools have regular meetings, usually with a team of professionals to determine the next best steps for a child's education. Parents are often invited to these meetings, and while moms knows their children best in terms of overall personality and development, they aren't always educated professionals.

If the school team and the parents disagree on the direction a child's education should take, presumably there would be a willingness on both sides to discuss the issue and try to come to an amiable conclusion for all. If your child reads out loud at home without issue, but his teacher claims they refuse to speak up in class, even though you as a mother know he's capable, you can't just dismiss what the teacher says out of hand-- their knowledge, expertise, and ability to see your child without the rose-tinted glasses of a parent's love may be necessary to get your child whatever services or special help he may need.

In the event that a parent resorts to filing a FOI request with the school, it suggests that there's a serious inability to communicate between the school and mom. Certainly a parent is entitled to file a FOI request, but asking for things and then balking when being expected to pay a fair cost for them does tend to raise red flags over who the difficult person in this equation is. Running to the media with your story rather than trying to work with the school to reach a solution doesn't do much to change this assumption.

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But part of being a parent is doing whatever you think is best for your child. Perhaps filing a FOI request is a necessary step in some circumstances, but as neither the parent nor the school seem happy about this situation, maybe they should try getting together and talking it out the old-fashioned and leave the courts out of it.

How far would you go to advocate for your child's education?

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